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A Review of
How Not to Kill a Muslim: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America
Paperback: Cascade Books, 2015.
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Reviewed by John W. Morehead
One of the greatest contemporary challenges faced by evangelicals and other expressions of Christianity in the West is the understanding of Islam and relationships with Muslims in America and around the world. Joshua Graves provides a helpful contribution to the conversation on navigating these challenges in How Not to Kill a Muslim. Despite the (strategically) provocative title, this volume presents a fair-minded and peace-oriented exploration of its subject matter.
The preface of the volume provides a succinct summary of the book’s focus and approach. The book “is primarily focused on the relationship and responsibility of Christians toward Muslims within the context of North America.” It explores the cultural and religious biases embedded within Protestant evangelical Christianity and demonstrates strategies for dialogue, appreciation, understanding, and shared life between Christians and Muslims living in the United States.
“Using a combination of narrative biblical interpretation, contemporary cultural analysis, a survey of socioeconomic stereotypes, and the Participatory Action Research (PAR) method, this project demonstrates that the problematic attitudes, beliefs, and actions of (evangelical) Christians toward American Muslims can be significantly altered through creative and intentional scriptural teaching (Luke 10:25-37), conversation, study, pop-culture analysis, and reflection. The primary target audience for this project: ministers, progressive leaders, and cultural agents of spiritual subversion” (ix.).
In the chapters that follow Graves makes the important observation of the importance of narrative and “emotional responses” (2) to human beings, and that these elements shape the kinds of lives we live in relation with others. He also discusses the “cultural and religious biases” (12) within evangelical Christianity, how this has fueled conflict with Muslims, and that this has led to the acceptance of negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. Graves then moves to a consideration and application of scripture, and this includes the Jesus story as epitomized in the “parable of the Merciful Samaritan (Luke 10:25-27)” (29), and Jesus’ radical teachings and example of enemy love. As Graves continues his use of scripture he also argues for the significance of the early chapters of Genesis with God’s pronouncement of the creation as good, human beings said to be created in God’s image, and the significance of the ancient near eastern context of these ideas with the attendant “high calling to live in shalom with the rest of creation” (45).
Graves then brings all of this together for the church living not on but in mission, and in application to interactions with Muslim. He shares how he has used this in connection with intentional teaching as well as participation and praxis. In using this methodology Graves “seeks to understand the world by trying to change it” (64).
This volume also includes three appendices. The first is “Islam for Dummies (Like Me),” the second is an example of how to use the author’s approach in a blog format, and the third is “Stereotype Survey Results” from the author’s research related to Christian attitudes on Islam.
Like any book this one has a few weaknesses. At one place after insightfully stating that “Jesus’ kingdom project was an extension of the peace project of Torah and the prophets”, he goes on to state that “[p]eacemaking is central to almost every single narrative/text in Scripture” (76). Although conservative evangelicals do not always recognize the significance of peacemaking to the gospel and how much it surfaces in scripture in general, Graves overstates the case in this quote. Beyond that, he misses an opportunity to draw attention to the violence in the Judeo-Christian scriptural tradition that Christian writers have begun to wrestle with, even while evangelicals call for Muslims to do the same in the Qur’an.
Another minor criticism comes by way of wondering to what extent negative stereotypes, attitudes, and practices of evangelicals toward Muslims can be “significantly altered” by such an approach. In another context, it took the Civil War and civil rights legislation for a large segment of the American Christian population to change its attitudes and theology in regards to slavery and African Americans. While this project is promising and hopeful, disciplines like social psychology and social neuroscience document the negative aspects of human tribalism, and thus it may be that other elements need to be added to the mix in order to achieve the worthwhile goals Graves works toward.
Despite these minor criticisms, How Not to Kill a Muslim is a worthwhile book for American evangelicals interested in exploring new understandings and pathways in relating to their Muslim neighbors.
John W. Morehead is the Custodian of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy He is the editor of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue (Lion, 2009), and works in multifaith engagement in the areas of Islam, Mormonism, and Paganism.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com